Working Like a Dog

by Apr 30, 2024Animals, Southport Oak Island

Mac, a trained therapy dog, loves his job working alongside a therapeutic harpist to spread peace and joy at Universal Health Care Brunswick in Bolivia.

On most Friday afternoons, residents and staff at Universal Health Care Brunswick in Bolivia are anxiously waiting outside on the front porch. When the truck transporting Mac, a certified therapy dog arrives, the group erupts in waves and cheers and applause. When Elizabeth Miller of Southport puts the universally recognizable red vest on Mac, he knows it is time to join the therapeutic harpist from the Coastal Carolina Chapter of Therapeutic Musicians and go to work.

“Mac truly loves his job at Universal,” Miller says. “He starts wagging his tail when we turn into the parking lot. Many of the same residents are there week after week waiting for us. They call out to us when we’re walking from the parking lot. Mac loves to visit each resident. I know by the smile on his face.”

Studies have found that therapy dogs help reduce blood pressure, lower heart rate and decrease pain perception. Therapy dogs provide a welcome distraction for individuals with chronic pain or illness and support a person’s mental health. And therapy dogs have sweet demeanors and unconditional love. Mac fits the bill to a tee.

UHC Bolivia Max Dog

Therapeutic music is intended to support the healing process for physical, emotional and mental concerns.  It is usually played live in healthcare settings like hospitals and nursing homes to enhance the healing atmosphere. Studies prove that therapeutic music can help stabilize heart rate, blood pressure and respiration rates. It can lead a patient into a state of deep relaxation and reduce stress, and it may decrease the need for pain medication. The Therapeutic Musicians of Coastal Carolina provide live therapeutic music at bedside, in group settings and virtually in New Hanover and Brunswick counties.

Mac did not always lead such a meaningful life as a therapy dog. Earlier in his life, he was pushed from a truck and abandoned. A good Samaritan rescued him and took him to the Darlington County Humane Society in South Carolina. Mac’s profile popped up on the Human Society website when Miller was searching for a dog.

“I wanted a dog that would be wonderful with my two cats and my older dog, Lulu,” Miller says. “When the staff at the Humane Society told me that Mac was a sweet love bug and tested well around other dogs and cats, I decided it was worth the two-hour drive to meet him.”

Mac and Lulu were fast friends.

“Then Mac put his head in my lap. I saw how gentle and loving he was,” Miller says. “But on the drive home, oh poor Mac was so afraid, trembling and drooling.”

Miller had read great reviews about Canine Academy in Bolivia, which offers basic to competitive obedience training as well as beginner to competitive rally training, agility training and scent work.

“Once we got there, I knew we had made a great choice for Mac’s training,” she says. “Mac was nervous initially, but the owner and trainer, Loretta Pyeatt, helped both of us overcome our fears.”

Support Dog Max United Health Care

Three-year-old Mac, the oldest in a class of all puppies, learned basic commands: sit, stay, heel, come and polite interactions with other dogs.

“We progressed from basic obedience to off-leash work, to hand signals, working with obstacles and visiting public places,” Miller says. “With each class, Mac’s confidence grew by leaps and bounds.”

During training, Miller discovered something else incredible about Mac. “I noticed how gentle Mac was with all people,” she says. “He loved everyone. I realized how much he excelled at obedience. Training to be a therapy dog seemed like a perfect fit.”

Canine Academy also offers certifications for the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen program, mentor Dog Training for Animal Behavioral College and therapy dog training for Alliance. Pyeatt, an accredited Alliance therapy dog evaluator, began her pet therapy work at her children’s elementary school in Colorado.

”I found it to be very rewarding work,” Pyeatt says.

When Pyeatt came to Brunswick County, she and a group of dog lovers started the first pet therapy training program in the county called B.A.R.K. They visited nursing facilities in Brunswick County starting in 1995.

Mac achieved his therapy dog certification from Pyeatt after additional training and multiple tests. He learned how to politely visit strangers and dogs, allow people to touch him, remain obedient during visits to new places and calmly interact with residents at nursing homes.

Now Mac and the therapeutic harp music at Universal are a magical team.

“It’s wonderful to see how the combination brings so much joy to the residents,” Miller says.

Max Support Dog Bolivia NC

There is singing of well-loved tunes like “You Are My Sunshine” and “Bicycle Built for Two” accompanied by dog hugs. Mac lays quietly by the harp and listens when he is taking a break from his work.

Lisa Fortier, life enhancement director at Universal Health, says, “It is a great value to have live harp music and Mac at Universal. It adds so much to our regular programs. The residents look forward to Fridays on the porch to see Mac and listen to live harp music. Mac is so good with the residents. The harp music is beautiful and relaxing. The residents show their excitement with smiles and a hello, while our memory care residents may tap their feet and doze off with contentment.”

Pyeatt confirms, “The reward for those receiving therapy is invaluable. And it’s a great way for dog owners to give back to the community.”

Miller concludes, “Mac brings such joy to the residents. It is truly changing their lives for the better.”

Photography by Katie D Photography